The work of ego dissolution is a path – and a long one at that – but the rewards are sorely worth it, true liberation of the self. Along that path there are a number of common entanglements that people can fall into whilst proactively engaging in this process.
Almost invariably it is the case that you will fall into one or more of these entanglements and that is an absolutely fine and necessary part of the process.
Don’t judge yourself for doing so, just forgive yourself and move on with a calm and peaceful acceptance of who and what you are.
Below I’ve distilled down the most common pitfalls people tend to fall into (myself included). These are to raise your awareness and ability to identify the particular patterns that arise.
Remember, all true wisdom is lived experience as the Buddha said, so just reading about these doesn’t guarantee a free-pass through the process, you must live it and see for yourself. It’s helps to develop a good sense of humour about the whole thing.
We are the architects of our life experience, the artists of our inner domain, and thus we create the inner and outer reality we inhabit.
Developing A Spiritual Identity
In the process of becoming increasingly aware of the ego and its patterning, many people can become confused and disoriented by this increased field of awareness. There can be a tendency to start to develop a split sense of yourself, there is the true self (pure awareness and pure knowing) and there is the ego self (your conditioned thought patterns).
This division is easy to fall into; it’s seems like a way to make sense of things to begin with.
It is false.
As we previously discussed, the ego sits within the field of your total awareness, it is not split apart from it. Just as in the planet and space analogy from the previous lesson, it is all within the same overall field.
The problem with the split identity phenomenon is that you’re adding to the illusion of separateness which fuels the ego and often one of more of the following occurs:
Many of us have had difficult experiences in our lives. Hard break ups, tragic losses, illness and bereavement. These can be painful to look at and cause us suffering. We might take up the spiritual path to try to alleviate this suffering, rather than just being with it until it lets go of us.
In this approach, one might attach all of their pain and negative feelings onto the ego. Whilst it is true to say that it is our ideas of self that cause us suffering, by attaching your pain to a discrete entity – the ego – you are simply cementing its presence in your life and by-passing the real work of witnessing it and being with it until it lets go of you.
In truth, this is a longer, more difficult road to self–acceptance, but the only one there is.
Doing ‘spiritual work’ in a world where many people are not, it’s easy to develop a sense of superiority over others because you’re aware of the ego and they might not be. This is identifying with thoughts of ‘spiritual improvement’ and furnishing yourself with an elevated sense of status over others. This is of course exactly what the ego wants to maintain its grip over your experience.
It’s also easily to fall into a narration about yourself and all the great work you’re doing to become aware of yourself, this is again more thinking, more identification and more egoic patterning.
A compassionate acceptance of yourself and everybody else is the only long term solution to the ego’s perennial desire to elevate yourself above others.
Things Go Wrong
When you create a separate entity of the ego or a spiritual identity for yourself, you set yourself up for suffering when life goes in an unexpected way. Countless people (myself included) develop awareness practices, go on retreats, read books and make honest and determined efforts along this path. Then something bad happens in life and we are left asking “why”, “why me?” and “I’ve done all this work this shouldn’t happen to me.”
Shouldn’t happen to who? You? There is no you. Any identification with that idea of yourself, no matter how much spiritual practice you have done, leaves you vulnerable to suffering in difficult times of life.
Now this will happen to you no matter what, it’s simply a process of growing up and maturing into life. Suffering is necessary, it shows where we are out of line with the natural flow of things. When you embrace this and stop resisting it you progress with much more ease. A humble acceptance of events just as they are.
Think of suffering as the fire of true self-discovery. Necessary on the path to truth.
1% of life is subject, 99% is your ideas about it.
Taking A Hostile Approach
We’ve learnt a lot during this course about the formation of the ego, how it develops, strengthens and defends itself. We’ve seen it can be the cause of a huge amount of suffering in your life. A common and very reasonable response to this is hostility. “Screw my ego”, “I hate it” and “I just want to destroy it so I can find peace.”
As we touched on in the previous lesson, the ego feeds on reactivity. This sledgehammer approach to its demise, just fuels it with reactive energy and creates separation. Playing wack-a-mole with your limiting thoughts and beliefs is tantamount to hitting yourself with the hammer and that would be a close definition of insanity.
It is an oft quoted phrase amongst highly conscious people that when you peer very deeply into the nature of reality as it is, all there is is love and more love.
The door to your liberation opens with love, not with force.
This is a long and at times difficult but very worthwhile process. Along the way, times will test us and we will be inclined to ‘give up’ and ‘throw this practice away’.
In Taoism and in its seminal text the I’Ching specifically, they call this phenomenon ‘throwing yourself away’ and entertaining ‘reckless abandon’ of yourself. This is another strategy of the ego.
What are you throwing away? This idea of yourself as an enlightened person in the future, that’s not currently going to plan right now.
In reality you can’t throw yourself away, there is no self to throw. It is the idea that is causing you suffering. You simply need to disidentify with your attachment to the idea of yourself as an enlightened person.
Your choice is only ever this, am I aware or unaware of the totality of what is going on. That is it.
You’re already enlightened, you’re simply, slowly waking up to the fact.
Take a moment to reflect on that.
Inside of you, behind all of the perceptual filters and ideas you have about yourself and the world around you, there is an awareness that is receiving everything exactly as it is, infinite and perfect as it is.
As the Buddha said, we are all already Buddhas, we just don’t realise it, yet.